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The three people Chad Knaus called on the night of his seventh championship

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Chad Knaus called three people on the night of winning his seventh championship with Jimmie Johnson last November.

One took some extra work – fitting because it was the person who validated his tireless dedication to pursue a dream: Ray Evernham.

“I know I woke his butt up, too, he was sound asleep,” Knaus said with a chuckle during the most recent NASCAR on NBC podcast. “I called like three times. Obviously, I’d had a few drinks and was feeling pretty happy. ‘Man, you better answer the phone.’”

When Evernham did answer, Knaus expressed heartfelt gratitude to the man who gave him his big break in NASCAR. Before becoming Johnson’s crew chief in 2002, Knaus started his career at Hendrick Motorsports in 1993 on Evernham’s crew with Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet.

“(Evernham) was a big part of me understanding what I was capable of and gave me a lot of opportunity to grow when I was young,” Knaus said. “When I moved down from Chicago (with a) brash, straight-to-the-point attitude, (it) didn’t necessarily fit with the Southern guys.

“It was the good old boys, take it one race at a time whatever happens, happens and have a good time. That wasn’t the way we raced in the Midwest with Rusty Wallace, Dick Trickle and Mark Martin. It was hard, hard racing. Coming down to work with Ray and the 24 car, he just reaffirmed that hard work, dedication, doing what’s right and being smart about decision-making process is exactly what will make you successful, and that helped me tremendously. He definitely laid the foundation which was awesome.”

Evernham is fond of often telling the story that when he hired him, Knaus told Evernham “I want your job within five years.”

Now at least statistically, Knaus has surpassed Evernham, who was voted the greatest crew chief of all time after winning three titles with Gordon.

“That’s what he tells me,” Knaus said of Evernham. “He tells me that all the time. I still have the utmost respect for him.”

The other two people that Knaus, 45, called after the championship?

His father, John (whom he served as crew chief for as a 14-year-old in Rockford, Ill.) and his wife, Brooke, who couldn’t attend the finale.

She was the first person Knaus called after fulfilling a few hours of postrace media obligations. “She obviously was in tears and having a great time celebrating with friends back in Charlotte,” Knaus said.

During the podcast, Knaus also addressed:

–His relationship with Johnson and why the two have managed to stay together through 15 seasons and win a record-tying seven championships;

–The importance of car chief Ron Malec, who has been with Johnson and Knaus since the No. 48 team’s inception, and why Knaus doesn’t like to hire away from other teams;

–What the legacy of seven titles means to him;

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

 

Atlanta Motor Speedway to delay repave at least a year

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The cries of drivers have been heard. Atlanta Motor Speedway will not repave its track as previously scheduled. Instead, track officials will evaluate the surface following the 2018 race there.

Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns the track, had planned to have the track surface repaved beginning in late March. It would have been the first repave there since 1997.

Engineers examined the track after the March 5 race to determine if the track surface could last another year with modest repairs. Track officials also consulted with Goodyear and others.

“There’s no question that the surface is worn out, but probably the most powerful lobby this side of Washington, D.C., was the biggest influence,” Ed Clark, president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, told NBC Sports of the drivers. “They kind of put the pressure on. I understand.”

After winning there, Brad Keselowski made his pitch not to repave the track.

“Drivers hate repaves,” he said. “We want to see the surfaces last as long as they can.  But the reality is nothing lasts forever, and this surface has made it a really, really long time, 20 years, I think, this season, and they should be really proud of that.

“My hope is they can get another year or two out of it, and I understand if they can’t, and you have to kind of leave it to their expertise and so forth.”

Clark said that work will need to be done to the track before next year’s race.

“The worst part is down the frontstretch in front of the grandstands,” Clark told NBC Sports. “There’s a lot of issues there. We’re actually going to have to cut a few areas and patch … to make it last through 2018. We consulted with Goodyear on that. They don’t think, as long as it is on the straightaway, it is a big issue from a tire standpoint.”

Clark said that the track surface will be sealed in October and should have the patching done before then.

“Let them go ahead and slip and slide one more time in 2018,” Clark said.

Clark said that while anything can change, he doesn’t foresee being talked out of a repave job too many more times.

“You have to see how the weekend goes and what happens,” Clark told NBC Sports. “We had to patch some places after the Saturday events this year, small places. Hey, if we could go two more, great. All you’ve got to do is walk out there and look at it. It is absolutely worn out. But if the drivers say, hey our choice is to race on this surface as it is.

“There comes a point (when a repave is needed). We do have a few drainage issues we do need to correct, some other things when the time comes. Right now, we’re going to get through 2018 and evaluate and see if that is the time or when is it.”

Clark said that when the track is repaved, Goodyear has expressed interest in having two test sessions to determine the proper tire for that 1.5-mile track instead of the customary one because of the track’s challenging surface.

Clark warns that with the excitement of Tuesday’s news, the day is still coming when the track will have to be repaved.

“I can’t see this going two more seasons, maybe only one,” Clark said.

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NASCAR America — My Home Track: 50 States In 50 Shows — Arkansas

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we continued our series of My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows as our trucks rolled into Arkansas!

We visited two short tracks in the state that produced President Bill Clinton and Basketball Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen.

Plus we talked to NASCAR Hall of Famer and Arkansas native Mark Martin about racing in his home state.

NASCAR America: Is there cause for concern with Jimmie Johnson’s performance thus far?

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It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson is off to a slow start in 2017.

The defending and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has a starting average of 21.8 and a finishing average of 18.8 in the first five races of this season.

He has just one top-10 finish (ninth at Phoenix), along with 34th at Daytona, 19th at Atlanta, 11th at Las Vegas and 21st Sunday at Fontana.

And let’s not forget he’s 17th in the NASCAR Cup standings heading to one of his strongest tracks, Martinsville Speedway, this Sunday.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we discussed this: After such a slow start to the season, is there a cause for concern over Johnson’s performance?

NASCAR America: Mark Martin is definitely a Kyle Larson fan

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin shared his experience of racing in his home state of Arkansas, as well as the excitement he feels watching  Kyle Larson compete in the Cup series.